Pregnant during apprenticeship

I am an apprentice on an 18-month contract, and the company is not obliged to offer me work at the end of the training contract, but I would have been eligible to apply for any jobs within the company once I was qualified. I am pregnant and will be starting maternity leave around halfway through the apprenticeship. Will I be entitled to come back after even though the contract will have finished and the rest of the apprentices will have completed their training course? The classes and workshops will no longer be taking place as the course will have finished so I do not see what I would do if I came back.

Pregnancy

 

First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy. Unfortunately, this is a difficult area as the rules regarding apprentices don’t specifically deal with pregnancy and maternity.

The starting point is that, as an apprentice under an approved English apprenticeship arrangement, you are entitled to statutory maternity leave and, if you qualify, statutory maternity pay. Hopefully, this is not disputed by your employer, from what you have said, I presume it has been agreed that you can take maternity leave in the normal way.

Your rights to return to your role

Normally, when an employee returns from maternity leave they are entitled to return to the same role. However, this rule doesn’t prevent an employer from ending an employee’s contract during maternity leave if a redundancy situation arises. Where an employee is on a fixed-term contract, which is due to expire whilst the employee is on maternity leave, the fact that they are on maternity leave also doesn’t prevent the fixed-term contract from expiring.

In your case, as your fixed-term contract is due to expire during your maternity leave, your employer could choose to let the contract come to an end by reason of the fixed-term contract ending. Unfortunately, as you have less than two years’ service with the company, you would not be entitled to bring a claim for unfair dismissal in this circumstance.

Alternatively, the company could choose to extend your contract due to your maternity leave, and then consider the position on your return to work. If, as you expect, the company did not have the apprentice role available, this would then create a redundancy situation at that time. Again, unfortunately due to your length of service, you would not be entitled to a statutory redundancy payment or to bring a claim for unfair dismissal in this circumstance.

However, you do have additional protection under the Equality Act 2010 which assists you here. If your employer treats you unfavourably because you are on maternity leave, this could amount to discrimination. In either scenario you may have a claim if you can demonstrate the reason that the company was making you redundant, or allowing your fixed- term contract to expire, was because of your maternity leave. The requirement to complete the apprenticeship training within the 18-month fixed term could potentially amount to indirect discrimination on the basis that whilst this rule is applied to all apprentices, this places women who are pregnant at a particular disadvantage. Indirect discrimination can be justified, but only if the company can show that this requirement was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Before ending your contract, your employer should therefore consider the reasons behind the requirement for the apprenticeship to be completed within 18 months and explore alternative options with you to demonstrate that they have acted reasonably.  If it is a possibility for you to continue in the apprentice role, and join the next round of training, or to complete your training via another means on your return, this is something that they should discuss with you and carefully consider. They should also consider any alternative vacancies that they have with you and in a redundancy situation would be obliged to offer you any suitable alternative vacancies in preference to other employees whilst you are on maternity leave.

If your contract is ended by your employer during your maternity leave you would still be entitled to receive your full remaining entitlement to statutory maternity pay.

Your options

I presume the training course is being provided by a separate training provider. The training provider is equally under obligations not to treat you unfavourably on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity leave. Have you discussed alternative options for them to complete the training course? Would it be possible for you to attend the training sessions remotely, or make other arrangements to meet the training requirements during your leave?

I would suggest your best option in this circumstance would be to stress to your employer that you are keen to explore options to allow you to complete your apprenticeship, either by completing your training whilst on maternity leave (assuming this may be feasible for you) and then completing the in-house training on your return, or by re-commencing your training on your return from leave. You can explain that you don’t wish to be placed at a disadvantage by your pregnancy in relation to your apprenticeship and ask them how they would propose to assist you in this. Hopefully, it will be possible for to you to identify alternative options to allow you to complete the training requirements, and to then continue to complete your apprenticeship.

Good luck with your conversations and I hope that you are able to identify a solution that enables you to complete your training.

*Charlotte Farrell and Tabytha Cunningham are Associate Solicitors at Paris Smith in Southampton.



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